Celebrate Rosh Hashanah with challah


Tomorrow is the first day of the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah, which officially begins at sundown. During the High Holy Days, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is customary to eat foods that are sweet and flavored with honey, apples and carrots. This symbolizes the “sweetness and good fortune” of the coming year.

One of my favorite breads is a traditional Jewish delight known as challah (pronounced HAH-lah), a slightly-sweet braided bread usually eaten on the Sabbath. During Rosh Hashanah, the challah is dipped in honey and made round rather than braided. I am not Jewish, but I have loved challah since I first tasted it many years ago. I could eat a whole loaf, just plain, but it also makes great French toast. Although rich with eggs, it has a light, airy texture. If you like Portuguese sweet bread, you’ll probably like challah. Following are two recipes for traditional challah, including one that can conveniently be made in your bread machine.

Almost Grandmother’s challah

Shape the dough into two round loaves after the second rising. Place each loaf in a buttered pan and continue as per recipe. From Bon Appetit magazine; makes 2 loaves.

1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup warm water (105 to 115 F)

2 tablespoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon plus 3/4 cup sugar

5 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 large egg yolk

1 tablespoon water

Combine 1/2 cup warm water, yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in a large glass measuring cup; stir until yeast dissolves. Let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat 5 eggs until blended. Add oil, salt and 3/4 cup sugar; beat until pale yellow and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Beat in 2/3 cup warm water. Add yeast mixture; beat until blended and fit mixer with dough hook. Add enough flour, a cup at a time, to form smooth dough, beating well after each addition. Beat until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour (by the tablespoon) if sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead a few times. Lightly oil a large bowl. Add dough, turning to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, then with a clean kitchen towel. Let dough rise in a draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Cover with plastic and clean towel; let rise 30 minutes more. Grease two large baking sheets. Turn out dough only lightly floured surface. Divide into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a round loaf for Rosh Hashana, cover with towel and let rise in warm area until almost doubled. Preheat oven to 400 F. Whisk yolk and 1 tablespoon water to blend. Brush dough with egg mixture. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 F. Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic when cool; store at room temperature up to one day.

Bread machine challah

Use your bread machine to prepare the dough, then bake either in the bread machine or, as adapted here, in your oven. Makes one loaf.

1 cup warm water

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 to 3 teaspoons salt

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

4 cups flour

Set machine on sweet dough setting. Put ingredients into machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. If you aren’t sure, put ingredients in the order above. After machine has completed its cycle, let the dough rise again in the machine. Remove dough, punch it down, and put it into an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise about an hour. Punch down dough again; shape dough into one large round loaf. Put bread on greased cookie sheet, cover and let rise for an hour. Brush bread with a beaten egg mixed with a teaspoon of water, if desired. Bake in preheated 325 F oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and cool completely.

Now break off a nice hunk of challah, butter if desired, and repeat after me: Happy New Year!